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Esther Teo
Sunday, Jun 1, 2014

Asia

Sino-Malaysia ties 'will weather test'

The Straits Times | Esther Teo | Sunday, Jun 1, 2014

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (left) and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People yesterday. Both countries inked several bilateral agreements and have agreed to boost trade to $201 billion by 2017.

TIES between Malaysia and China might have been strained over the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, but the historically strong bilateral relationship that has endured two generations will allow both countries to weather the "test".

That was the message both Prime Minister Najib Razak and Premier Li Keqiang touched on yesterday, even as Mr Li urged Datuk Seri Najib to "take the investigation seriously" and to establish a new plan to find the plane that has been missing since March 8.

The two leaders met at the Great Hall of the People as part of Mr Najib's six-day visit to China to mark 40 years of diplomatic ties. The trip began in the north-western city of Xi'an on Tuesday.

"We believe the understanding, friendship and partnership developed over the years will enable us to work closely together to find solutions and answers to what really happened to this aircraft," Mr Najib said. He added that the tragic incident is "so complex and unprecedented" that it will require the cooperation of many countries for the search to be successful.

In return, Mr Li expressed hope that Malaysia will continue to lead and coordinate the next phase of search at an early date and continue offering assistance to family members of the passengers and also responding to their legitimate requests.

"If China and Malaysia continue to work together with the help of other countries, the incident can be properly settled and Sino-Malaysia relations can go through this test," Mr Li added.

While both countries have enjoyed rapidly warming ties, the disappearance of the Beijing-bound MAS plane, whose 227 passengers were mostly Chinese nationals, cast a pall on Mr Najib's trip.

The leaders discussed wide-ranging issues such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea and ways to increase economic cooperation, Chinese news programme Xinwen Lianbo reported.

The bulletin added that China and Malaysia agreed that claimant states should use direct negotiations to handle the maritime dispute and avoid taking steps that could complicate or expand the scope of the issue.

China is embroiled in an increasingly contentious dispute with Vietnam and the Philippines over the resource-rich waters of the South China Sea. Parts of the sea are also claimed by Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.

Later in the day, the leaders witnessed the inking of a slew of bilateral agreements before Mr Najib was hosted to a welcome dinner by Mr Li.

The six agreements involve furthering cooperation in cultural exchanges, trade and economic activity, defence and industrial cooperation.

They also include agreements to set up new consulates and a memorandum of understanding between the postal services of both countries.

Malaysia has been China's biggest trade partner in ASEAN for six years running, with two-way trade amounting to US$106 billion (S$133.16 billion) last year. Both countries have agreed to boost trade to US$160 billion (S$201 billion) by 2017.

Today, Mr Najib is scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping and visit the Beijing Foreign Studies University.


This article was first published on May 30, 2014.
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